How to Hide Inside a Three, the debut novel by Jane van der Riet, is out now from Penguin Random House.
Van der Riet grew up in Cape Town and joined the anti-apartheid struggle as a student. She has worked at the Social Change Assistance Trust, the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, and as a student counsellor at the University of Cape Town. She still lives in Cape Town, where she practises as a psychotherapist.
In the latest issue of The Penguin Post, Van der Riet describes How to Hide Inside a Three as ‘a serious novel about whiteness and shame’. Her protagonist, Leigh-Anne, lives in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, during the 2017 water crisis, quietly unravelling. She’s ‘a nice white racist who grapples with apartheid training that can never be undone’.
‘Whiteness is already so clamouringly loud,’ Van der Riet writes. ‘I wonder if it’s not a further act of colonisation to write about its troubles.
‘There’s no easy answer to this question. In my novel, I try to illuminate how what we most despise in others is the shadow of our hidden shame.’
About the book
Things I used to wish were true:
1. On the morning of your twenty-first birthday you were handed a top-secret manual explaining how to be a grown-up.
2. Mr Hoody and the legions of others in the crevices of the city had homes.
3. There were still chocolate digestives in the cupboard after last night’s binge.
It’s 2017 in Cape Town. The dams are empty. There’s a gangster in charge of the country. Leigh-Anne may look like she’s keeping it together in her Southern suburbs world, but really she’s unravelling. A letter has arrived from her ageing dad, asking forgiveness for some unknown sordid deed. What on earth is that about? Then there’s the tortuous sex with her psychiatrist husband Samuel and the fact that she can’t stop fantasising about her colleague Omar. Inexplicably, one of her kids is wetting the bed while the other one’s turning into a little tyrant. Her batty best friend continues to offload her crises – the latest is a paternity test for Gwendal’s troubled teenage daughter. Meanwhile, Leigh-Anne’s supposed to be organising a play about sexual abuse with grade sevens in Gugulethu. It’s not going very well.
How is a woman supposed to cope? With chocolate and wine, of course, and by making plenty of lists (things feel much more manageable when you write them down in threes). But all is not what it seems. Leigh-Anne has a secret of her own. In her quest for answers, she will have to betray everyone she loves; only then can she truly come out of hiding.